Is God Within or Outside? Yes!

many_paths_to_onenessOne of the most frequently asked questions I encounter in my spiritual teaching and coaching practice concerns the issue of whether God — by whatever name or label you wish to call It — is a God “out there” who can and does interact with us on the physical plane directly, or whether the Divine exists only in and as us. Stated in more philosophical terms, the question is whether God is immanent (meaning within) or transcendent (meaning external or outside).

This is more than a philosophical issue. In fact, it can affect our everyday relationship with God. For example, when we pray, do we address a deity who exists entirely outside of our mind and frame of reference? A God who can give and withhold gifts both material and spiritual? Or are we praying to a God of whom we are an intimate and integral part, so that we are addressing, in one sense at least, our own Higher Self? Many people on a path to Enlightenment struggle with this question. If you were raised in a church that taught a God “out there”, you may be either uncomfortable or unfulfilled interacting with what amounts to an impersonal Force, in other words, with a God “out there”.

In the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 77), Jesus makes his teaching quite clear. “The Kingdom is inside you and outside you. Split a piece of wood and  I AM there. Lift up a stone and there you will find me.” This is the clearest and most direct statement found in Jesus’ teachings on this subject, but it is hardly the only text we have demonstrating his core belief in a God who is both immanent and transcendent. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is heard to say, “The Kingdom is within.” And yet, he certainly frequently treated God (as his Father) as if he were an external, seemingly separate being. (How much of this latter teaching of explicit separation is due to Jesus’ original words and how much to translators who brought that theology to their task, we will probably never know.)

During my many years of study, I have come to the conclusion — at least for now — that God and the universe are connected in a panentheistic way, which means that they are both part of a single continuum and that we as humans manifest as holographic images of the Divine. (This, by the way, is how I interpret the account in Genesis where God says, “Let us make Man in our image.”). In other words, God is both within and without. Rather than being contradictory, this seems to me to be the only logical description of the all-encompassing Deity.

To clarify a bit further, this need not and in fact does not mean or even imply the existence of two separate gods, one of which is within and the other which is without. Some religious traditions teach that belief, but I have a sense they are mistaken. If you think at all deeply about the Christian concept of the Trinity, you could come to the conclusion that those three aspects of God are three separate entities, somehow mysteriously united into one Force, a very Hindu-like teaching. The Trinitarian model certainly doesn’t contradict the notion of multiple deities and could be interpreted as meaning that there is a God who is within us and another God who is outside of us. But that is not my teaching or belief.

As to the nature of this God who is both immanent and transcendent, that’s the subject of a whole other essay or book. But the core idea for our present purpose is that God cannot be confined to being only within us or only outside of us, but, in Its eternal, infinite presence, is and indeed must be both.

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